Image: Attorneys
Judi Bottoni  /  AP
Attorneys Townsend M. Myers, left, who represents police officer Michael Hunter, and Eric Hessler, right, who represents officer Robert Gisevius, leave the New Orleans Criminal Court building Thursday after hearing of the grand jury’s action.
updated 12/28/2006 10:41:30 PM ET 2006-12-29T03:41:30

Seven police officers were indicted Thursday on murder or attempted murder charges in a pair of shootings on a bridge that left two people dead during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The district attorney portrayed the officers as trigger happy.

"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.

The shootings took place under murky circumstances six days after the storm and became one of the most widely cited examples of the anarchy that descended after Katrina.

Two men were killed and four people wounded on the Danziger Bridge, which spans the Industrial Canal.

At the time, the sweltering city was still littered with corpses as rescuers tried to evacuate stranded residents and looters ransacked stores.

Police initially said the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings occurred after shots were fired at Army Corps of Engineers workers.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley called Jordan's comments "highly unprofessional, highly prejudicial and highly undignified," and urged the community to withhold judgment until a jury decides their guilt or innocence.

"We want justice first and foremost," Riley said, "but for the district attorney to try and prejudice the community against these officers before all the evidence is heard is really, I think, a sad day for the city."

Defense attorneys said their clients are innocent.

"As a wise man once said, a district attorney can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich," said Franz Zibilich, attorney for officer Robert Faulcon, who is charged with murder and attempted murder. "They heard only one side of the story."

A judge gave the officers 24 hours to surrender and said there would be no bond for the four accused of murder, which carries a possible death sentence. The officers accused of attempted murder were to be held on $100,000 bond for each count.

The grand jury issued the charges after hearing weeks of testimony. The foreman of the panel, Lee Madare, declined to comment in detail as he left the courthouse but asked a reporter, "Do you understand the word cover-up?"

A spokesman for Mayor Ray Nagin declined to comment on the indictments.

According to a police report, several officers responded to a radio call that two fellow officers had been hurt. When they arrived, seven people were seen running, and four began firing at police, the report said. The officers returned fire.

The victims were Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally retarded man, and James Brissette, 19. The coroner said Madison was shot seven times, with five wounds in the back.

‘Running gunbattle’
Riley has described the confrontation as a "running gunbattle" that lasted several minutes.

Madison's brother, Lance, has said the two were crossing the bridge on their way to another brother's dental office when a group of teens ran up behind them and opened fire. As they fled, Lance Madison said, he and his brother encountered seven men who jumped out of a rental truck and also began firing.

The police department has said an officer shot Ronald Madison after he reached into his waistband and turned toward the officer.

Lance Madison denies that his brother was armed.

In addition to Faulcon, police Sgt. Kenneth Bowen and officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Gisevius were charged with murder. Officers Robert Barrios, Mike Hunter and Ignatius Hills were charged with attempted murder.

The indictments were the latest blow to the reputation of the beleaguered police department. More than 200 officers on the 1,500-member force were disciplined for various offenses after the storm, including failure to show up for work.

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